Yesterday, I drove to Asheville, North Carolina for a denominational meeting. Asheville holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I first entered into vocational ministry as a pastor ten years ago. In fact, it was April 2004 that I moved down to Asheville from Connecticut. My wife followed a month later. During that month, I was charged with finding a house, which is another post altogether.
When we moved to Asheville, we were making big changes in our lives. I was leaving my engineering career and starting fresh. We were moving a day’s drive away from all of our family. We were moving to a place where we knew no one other than the people we had met in interviews along the way. We didn’t take the decision lightly and had spent a significant amount of thought and prayer on it.
My wife and I had only been married for about three years when we move to Asheville. We had no children by that point either. So, those three and a half years that we spent together in Asheville helped us as a couple to really learn to rely on each other and God in the midst of the uncertainty. Some close relatives had told us of their time spent away from family at the beginning of their marriage and how beneficial it was for them. Once we experienced it ourselves, we agreed.
My wife and I loved going downtown Asheville and hanging out. There are so many great places to eat, so many interesting people to see, and although it’s a city, it feels a little bit more like a village, as one of my friends so aptly put it. In some ways, it felt like we had an extended honeymoon to spend all of this time together, alone. There were difficult things in the church, but the benefit of each other was so helpful as we journeyed through it together.
A year before we left Asheville, our first son was born. Now having a child, the distance from family grew even more difficult. We were blessed by many great people in our church who stood in as surrogate relatives in the absence of our blood relatives, but it just wasn’t the same. We began to feel the pull to move closer to family. That coupled with some of the further difficulties that we were encountering within the church made the decision simple on paper, but we had grown to love Asheville and it was hard to say, “good-bye.”
Driving west on 40 yesterday, I could feel my heart begin to race a little faster as we passed the Ridgecrest cross. As we drove into Black Mountain to drop off one of my fellow pastors for a meeting, the anticipation was growing more inside of me. We drove to our hotel which was right by The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center, where I spent a number of days and nights leading worship with some pretty incredible and talented people.
As we drove down Tunnel Road and got on 240, I felt myself being pulled back in time to when I saw all of these things for the first time. I remember driving west on 240 and coming through the mountain to glimpse the Asheville skyline on my left, painted with a backdrop of mountains, it was a stunning sight for me then, and just as stunning of a sight to behold when I saw it again this time.
We drove up Merrimon Avenue where I spent a good part of my time, past the church where I served. Drove past Urban Burrito, a place that had grown near and dear to our hearts as my son seemed to enjoy their burritos in utero. We drove to Marco’s Pizzeria where my wife and I had discovered a fellow “yankee” (and me a fellow New Yorker) who actually knew how to make pizza.
After eating at the Mellow Mushroom downtown and hanging out with some friends who I’ve stayed connected with through social media, we walked through downtown. We went past Pack Square Park and I pointed out where some of my favorite street performers usually are on Friday and Saturday nights. We walked past the Marble Slab and down to the Orange Peel where I had seen and heard some great musical acts during my time here: Howie Day, Nickel Creek, and others. We walked to Pritchard Park where the drum circle takes place on Friday nights and I pointed out the Flat Iron building, modeled after the one in New York, and where Early Girl Café is, a favorite eatery of my wife and mine.
We ran into a Celtic street performing group complete with bagpipes. We walked past Tops For Shoes where we bought my son’s first pair of shoes. We walked past Doc Chey’s Noodle House and Salsa’s Mexican Caribbean Restaurant, one of our all time favorites. We saw the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium where I had seen Harry Connick and his big band. It all felt as if I had just been here yesterday.
And as we walked around, taking in the sights, hearing the sounds, and me recounting my own memories, my heart began to ache a little. In just a short three and a half years, this city had captured our hearts. The place and the people. I realized in those moments just how powerful place can be, how a place can almost embed itself within your soul, capturing your heart.
Asheville will always hold a special place in the hearts of my wife and me. We have often said many times since we left that we wish that we could take Asheville and plant it a little closer to where our family is, but that’s just can’t happen. So, we will be forced to come back, over and over again. We will walk the streets, see the sights, hear the sounds, and remember. We will look at each other and smile, remembering when it was all fresh and new to us, and our hearts will be warmed as we remember.